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11:21 AM Wed, Sept. 19th

El Gato Azul jazzing venue up with more music

PRESCOTT - El Gato Azul, located along Granite Creek at 316 W. Goodwin St., has emphasized music since it opened nearly nine years ago, owner Barry Barbe said.

"We have always had something, but this last 18 months or so we have really focused on (music)," Barbe said. "There is so much local entertainment. There are so many local guys in town, everything from folk to jazz."

Barbe said his venue also draws musicians from Phoenix and Sedona. With warmer weather coming, musicians are performing on the patio, overlooking the creek. A soloist might perform in the middle of the patio, while a band will play at the north end, Barbe said. El Gazu Azul offers an intimate venue, with seating for about 120 people.

His restaurant will host free performances from jazz artists Khani Cole of Phoenix and "Papa" John DeFrancesco of Maricopa 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.

Cole, a singer who has been performing since the 1970s and ascended to acclaim after moving to Phoenix from Milwaukee in 1992, will perform for the first time in Prescott.

Cole said her father, Casey Janiszewski, influenced her musical taste by watching Broadway plays, listening to opera and playing songs by Nat King Cole, Barbra Streisand and other artists.

Her father also sang, and played the piano and violin, Cole said.

Cole cites her favorite artists as Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Luther Vandross and Whitney Houston.

Describing her style as "adult contemporary," Cole described her voice as being "a rich, round sound."

Her bio states her move to Phoenix sparked the inception of her first release, "Piece of My Soul," on Fahrenheit Records. It featured jazz greats Brian Bromberg, Joey DeFrancesco ("Papa" John DeFrancesco's son) and Marco Russo, among others.

Her second release, "Places," produced a hit, a cover of "You've Made Me So Very Happy" by Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Recent highlights have included a duet with George Benson at the Hollywood Bowl-2010 Playboy Jazz Festival and a three-week tour of Denmark and Germany in 2011.

Cole, who has dined at El Gato Azul, said such small venues "really have a charm and an intimacy that you are not going to get in a bigger place."

DeFrancesco, 72, the son of a saxophone player, said he has been performing since the age of 6, and played with rhythm and blues and jazz acts during the 1950s. He played his first paying gig at age 8 for $10.

He initially played the trumpet, but got hooked on the organ after attending a jazz concert in 1969 in Buffalo, N.Y.

"When I heard the organ, I said, 'Oh my God!' It sounded so spiritual and warm."

DeFrancesco, a native of Niagara Falls, N.Y., listed as his major influences organist Jimmy Smith and trumpeter Louis Armstrong.

Smith influenced him by the "way he played, the way that stuff swang," DeFrancesco said. Armstrong inspired him to learn how to play the trumpet.

DeFrancesco said he likes jazz because it is American classical music.

"Blues was a big factor in jazz," he said.

DeFrancesco said local jazz guitarist Bob Shimizu invited him to perform at El Gato Azul. Drummer Todd Chuba will round out the trio.

"I'm glad to be playing," DeFrancesco said. "I'm not going to quit until I fall apart."

Reservations are recommended for both performances, and can be made by calling (928) 445-1070.

(Editor's note: The El Gato Azul phone number has been corrected in this posted story.)